TAMPA — Tampa Catholic thought about playing in Friday night's game — the Class 5A region girls basketball final — for an entire year. The Crusaders never forgot how much it hurt to lose in the same game to Oxbridge Academy in 2017. They hoped Oxbridge would show up to play them in the 2018 final.
Maybe TC wanted it too much.
"We prepared and prepared," TC coach Matt Rocha said. "We worked so hard."
Then in the opening minutes on Friday night TC came out a little tight and Oxbridge, the No. 1 team in Class 5A by MaxPreps, took quick advantage.
Before the Crusaders knew it, they had tossed away a slew of turnovers and trailed by 16, a deficit they could never overcome, ultimately losing 62-44.
"You can call it nerves or jitters or whatever you want but you have to work it out and get by it," Rocha said. "You cannot get behind 16 points in a region final and expect to come back. This is greatly disappointing."
This is not to say the Crusaders (21-8) didn't give it 100 percent from start to finish, even when they trailed by 23 points early in the third quarter.
Tampa Catholic, in fact, cut the gap to 56-44 with just under three minutes left in the fourth quarter and barely rimmed out a 3-pointer that would have cut Oxbridge's advantage to single digits.
Oxbridge (25-5) promptly followed with several converted foul shots as the clock steadily ticked down.
In the end, junior Tanyia Gordon and senior Ashley Sieper led TC with 12 and nine points, respectively, but it was the 20 total turnovers that might have been the most glaring statistic.
"It was way, way too many," Rocha said. "It was very frustrating."